Islamabad Speakers at a seminar on Wednesday highlighted importance of public awareness to avoid exposure of human health and environment to hazard mercury, which poses grave risk to the sustainability of the life and environment.
The government, non-government organisations, environmental experts, academia, industrialists, medical practitioners and dentists also pledged to join hands to play their role to eliminate use of mercury at all level in order to achieve the objectives of mercury-free Pakistan by 2020.
Addressing as a keynote speaker at the Mercury Awareness Seminar, Joint Secretary (International Cooperation) Ministry of Climate Change Hammad Shamimi stressed for enhancing public understanding about causes, impacts and sources of mercury to achieve the goal of mercury-free Pakistan. He said that in this regard, the role of academia, researchers, scientists, policymakers and media is of unprecedented importance.
The seminar was organised by the Ministry of Climate Change in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme and Global Environment Facility under the project “Development of Minamata Initial Assessment in Pakistan”.
“Exposure to mercury from environmental sources, such as contaminated fish consumption, cosmetics, dental filling, pose potential health risks to the public. But many are unaware of it because of lack of awareness. There is a need to reducing public exposure to mercury by creating awareness among masses at all levels, particularly schools, colleges, universities and mass media,” Shamimi highlighted.
Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change, Mureed Rahimoon spoke on the aims and objectives of the project and UNEP’s Minamata Convention on Mercury. He said that the project aims for strengthening the baselines on mercury management in the country, developing national mercury inventories, piloting of sectoral action-plans as a follow-up of prioritization including indicative sampling and hammering out national mercury management plans.”
Rahimoon told the participants that Pakistan is a signatory to the UNEP’s Minamata Convention on Mercury, including 128 countries, which is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
Spelling out major highlights of the Minamata Convention, the Climate Change Ministry’s Deputy Secretary told the seminar participants that “it includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes and control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water. “The Convention also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues,” he said.
The experts also identified mercury in mining, hospitals and industrial equipment (thermometers and BP apparatus), Dental fillings, jewellery making, skin whitening creams/soaps, electric batteries, paints and fish species, which was considered one of the key causes of nervous system disorders, kidney, lungs, reproductive system and cardiovascular defects.
“Long-term exposure to the mercury vapours causes anxiety, loss of appetite, tremors, excessive shyness, irritability, changes in vision, fatigue, hearing and sleeping problems, headache, chest pain, coughing and sore throat and memory loss,” said Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja, a well-known mercury researcher at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
He highlighted during his speech that that mercury was not only in people, but also polluting rivers and aquaculture.